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Prioritizing nurses’ mental health care: ‘It's not just a nice luxury to have – it's necessary.’

Provided by Bridgett Robbins

Bridgett Robbins is an Assistant teaching professor at the Sinclair School of Nursing, but before that she worked as a nurse in Mid-Missouri for more than 30 years.

She spoke about how the past several years of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted – and continues to impact – her and those she works alongside.

As a note - This piece discusses the pandemic, grief and death, and may be distressing to some listeners. 

Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words.

Bridgett Robbins: We didn't, we didn't let family members come into the hospital who had dying family – that's stressful. The nurses were stressed out about that.

It's very sad to hold somebody back that needs to be with their family – definitely when they're dying, but even when they're sick in the hospital, like you want your family around you, and nurses want patients to have their family around them.

So again, one more layer of stress, and, you know, going home feeling a little bit sad and powerless, because you can't help that situation.

But to flip that, on a more positive side, there was a lot of creativity, and, you know, different staff decided that they would help FaceTime, or, you know, during – if a patient was dying, they would have a Zoom meeting and they would let their family be there singing while their family member was struggling through the last hours of their life.

So, that added a little more workload, and [is] probably another reason why many nurses were like, “Ooh. I've had it. I need a break,” and so, they stepped out. I hope many of them will step back in, but some of them just decided to retire early.

I know a nurse that’s been a nurse for 20 years who's never had a death. Yeah – she's a pediatric nurse, and she's never had a death, I'm so happy for her. I'm a nurse that works with adult patients and geriatric patients, and it's not very unusual, once a month, for me to experience having a patient experience a death.

But for someone that isn't used to a high incidence of death, suddenly being exposed to that kind of situation – that would be very stressful and mentally stressful, and if you're not – if that's not one of your fields of expertise, or comfort, if you will, you know…

That did have some impact on the staff that worked there.

You know, staff gets stressed out and they need help to negotiate their wellness and health and how to get through that situation, and so, I think it was, it's been recognized in the past that this is important and health care workers have feelings too and [you] need to be, you know, concerned about their mental health.

But I believe that there are more and more resources becoming available, and I think it's coming to light that it's not just a nice luxury to have – that’s it's necessary if we want to keep our staff healthy and thriving and wanting to come to work and continue taking care of patients the way that they did when they first entered their profession.

Jaden Harper is a junior at the University of Missouri studying cross-platform editing and producing. She is a reporter/producer for KBIA's Missouri Health Talks and the supervisor producer for the Vox Voice podcast.